Death Row Meals: San Quentin

Prison Food

Confession: Research is my favorite thing about writing. Why? Because I get sidetracked.

Today’s shiny bauble is San Quentin, or more specifically San Quentin reviews. With Tripadvisor-like lingo, Yelp reviewers (both prisoners and visitors) give bouquets and brickbats (mostly brickbats) to their prison surroundings. My favorite quote below:


Dylan D gives San Quentin 3 stars, justifying his average rating with these comments:

I really wanted to love this place.


When I arrived there was a HUGE line for food, so my hopes got pretty high right off the bat.  Everyone seemed really excited for the food so I assumed I was in for a real treat.


It was pretty busy, but I was able to find a table.  Again, I understand this is buffet style, but when I asked the gentleman by the front door near where I was sitting if I could sit further from the door he was SUPER RUDE about it.  He just motioned for me to sit back down, but at least the front door led to a hallway and not the outside, so although it was raining, I figured I’d be fine.


With the reputation of this place, I thought I would be blown away, but honestly I found most of it to be really underwhelming.


The beans were my favorite part.  They had a subtle smoky flavor and the texture was just right.  However, I did not like the viscosity of the broth they were in.  It was so runny it contaminated my other sides and then I wasn’t even sure what I was eating.  But when I focused on the beans I must admit, I did enjoy them.

There is no way that the brisket was grass fed, It was too stringy and when I asked the server what farm the meat was from, he just stared at me like I was crazy.  Way to train your staff, San Quentin.

I also had a side of carrots and peas.  I don’t really like carrots and peas but the colors were so vibrant I accepted when the server gestured with the ladle.  On the plate it looked like a wonderful heirloom salad bringing a nice aesthetic quality to the display.  I must say, again, I was underwhelmed.  The carrots were mushy and the peas were either not very ripe or undercooked, but they almost had a crunch to them.  What are these PEA NUTS?!  I did, however enjoy the cut of the carrot, the ends were rounded so it’s not too awkward of a mouthful.  But really, the peas and carrots’ best contribution was visual, and that is not making the cut.

It seems public tours of San Quentin have been discontinued, but this YouTube video gives you a peek into a cellmate’s lodgings:


Death Row Meals: Victor Feguer Prisoner # 28105

It used to be my party ice-breaker question: If you were going to die tomorrow, what would you choose as your final meal?

As you might imagine, the question quickly thinned the crowd of people who wanted to hang around me for the evening. But it’s a question that death row inmates have had to consider time and again as an execution date draws closer.

This set of blog posts takes a look at their fascinating choices and speculates about the reasons surrounding those choices.
Victor FeguerFirst up is Victor Feguer. Executed by hanging on March 15, 1963 in Iowa, Feguer’s last meal request was a single olive. With the pit. He tucked the pit into the pocket of his suit the morning of his execution. I could find no information on the significance of the olive to Feguer.

Diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, Feguer had a long history of mental illness culminating in the kidnapping and murder of Dr Edward Bartels. The motive for the murder is unclear; it seems Feguer randomly selected Bartels name and number from a phone book. He lured Bartels to his apartment on a house call with a story about a wife in pain after a recent surgery. In fact, Feguer had no wife.

There are theories that Feguer simply wanted to get morphine or Demerol from the doctor, but whatever his motivation, it ended in the death of Bartels, a father of three and with his wife expecting a fourth child.

Captured when trying to sell Bartel’s 1959 Rambler, Feguel revealed the location of the doctor’s body but pinned the crime on a fictional “Alex Dupree”.

After Feguel’s death it would be 38 years before the next federal execution in Iowa – Timothy McVeigh.

Playlist for a Dental Appointment

I just scheduled my annual cleaning of the ivories and I thought I’d put together a playlist for the event. Because, you know, avoiding actual work.

Chomper and the Bicuspids give a foot-stomping rendition of the reasons to brush daily here.

AJ Jenkins provides a catchy, cheerful tune here.

But you probably aren’t seven, right?

Good news. Your dental playlist doesn’t need to be a syrupy sweet concoction of light, childish tunes. Go blues-y with Lonnie Johnson’s 1928 recording of The Toothache Blues.

A little darker and probably more in keeping with many of our dental fears and experiences: the Dentist Song by Galahad

The Root of All Evil by Psychostick

and Cranium’s Dentist of Death

No playlist would be complete without Steve Martin’s the Dentist! song from Little Shop of Horrors.

Here’s a bit of interesting trivia. Martin went on to play wealthy dentist Dr. Frank Sangster (in Novocaine), seduced from the loving arms of his fiancé by a patient coming to him for a root canal.

Need a laugh to get you through your appointment? I recommend Cavity Search by Weird Al Yankovic. Although there’s a painful touch of truth to his humor.


And in writing related news, here’s a blog link to the history of toothpaste by romance writer Mary Forbes.

Soylent Green is … Pepsi? (Sequel to Soylent Green is … Granite)

Nah, it’s not. Or maybe it is. You decide.

Recently I posted Soylent Green is … Granite, wherein I revealed the startling discovery of a strangely named granite sample. This post resulted in a private message from someone alerting me to the rumor around Soylent Green in Pepsi and other frequently consumed foods.

Context: Soylent Green is a 1973 movie starring Charleton Heston. In it, the Soylent Corporation releases a new food (Soylent Green) to a starving, overpopulated future Earth. Soylent green is made of dead people.

The rumor: The secret ingredient in Pepsi is cells from aborted fetuses.

Is it true? Essentially, no. But wait, there’s more.

The source of the rumor (according to Oklahoma state senator Ralph Shortey introduced a bill in January of 2012 to ban “the manufacture or sale of food or products which use aborted human fetuses”. This raised some eyebrows.

The confusion enters here: U.S. based Senomyx is a biotechnology company that develops new ingredients with the intention of enhancing flavor and smell of foods. Senomyx does list HEK 293 (Human Embroyonic Kidney cells) in many of its patents, but HEK 293 is widely used in pharmaceutical research. Additionally, HEK 293 isn’t a newly harvested cell; it’s derived from a single fetal kidney cell collected in 1970.

The technical data on HEK 293 reads: “Transformed with sheared human Ad5 DNA. Sensitive to human adenoviruses and adenovirus DNA. Can be used to isolate transformation defective host-range mutants of Ad5 and for titrating human adenoviruses. This is a hypotriploid human cell line. The modal chromosome number was 64 …” Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

And it’s not just Pepsi that’s under the gun in this Soylent Green controversy. Kraft and Nestle have also been linked to Senomyx.

Can these food products be legitimately painted with the Soylent Green brush? I guess it depends on your interpretation. Po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe, say HEK 293 detractors.


The Day After (Or, Daylight Saving Time? WTF?)

It’s the Monday following the Spring Ahead part of Daylight Saving Time.  Every year at this time, as my own circadian clock slowly adjusts to this theft of an hour, I wonder why. Wasn’t it for the farmers? Can’t they get up whenever they want?

So this year, instead of tossing restlessly in bed AN HOUR EARLIER THAN LAST NIGHT, I took a look at the why of Daylight Saving Time. Apparently Benjamin Franklin is the culprit, having suggested its implementation several times in the 1770s whilst serving as an emissary to France. The reason? Energy conservation.

Although suggested by Franklin in the mid-eighteenth century, daylight time wasn’t implemented until 1915 in Germany. Other countries quickly followed suit. Swedish researchers, studying 20 years of data, discovered an uptick in heart attacks on the Monday after clocks were turned ahead. I can anecdotally support this; I nearly had a heart attack when the alarm went off this morning.

Also, did you think it was Daylight SavingTime, not Daylight Saving Time? Yeah, me too.

Short post today. I’m toodling off to take a nap. ZZzzzzzzzz

A Research Tip (Or, How to Be a Hog Farmer)

If you read my bio in the About Me section, you’ll know that I’m a dabbler, easily distracted by shiny things. I love to learn. Anything, random shit is my favorite. If there were a degree in Random Shit, I would definitely go back to school.

Today I’m going to share a little research tip I learned from an instructor recently.

Research is important to every writer I know. Even if you’re writing a piece of fiction, you’ll invariably come across something – a location, a piece of equipment, an article of clothing, a food – that you’re not familiar with. So you Google it, right? And get abajillion hits. How can you separate out the credible sources from the not-so-credible?

Suppose I have a character who’s a pig farmer. I want to be able to round out who he is, what he does and how he sounds in some sort of believable way when I’m presenting him in the context of his profession. But I don’t know anything about pig farming*.  If I Google <butcher a pig> I get some interesting hits, but if I want hard facts and information, I type this into the search engine: <butcher a pig filetype:pdf> Here’s what I find:

  • A paper from the State of Oklahoma. It tells me some interesting things like only 57% of a hog will make it into something edible. It shows me the cuts on a hog, as well as describing the process. Pigs feet, for instance, weigh 3 pounds. There’s 23 pounds of back fat on a hog.
  • The second hit brings me to Animal Science at Penn State University
  • The third to a piece on slaughtering, cutting, preserving and cooking on the farm, as presented by the US Department of Agriculture

And so on. All reliable, knowledgeable resources.

To repeat the magic search formula: your search words plus filetype:pdf

*Pig farming. Well, it’s not technically true that I know nothing about it. When I was a kid, we used to butcher our own pigs for consumption. It was nasty. Still, grist for the writer’s mill, right?